Book Notice: What I Wish I’d Known from Lexham Press

free-bookLexham Press, the publication wing of Faith Life, makers of Logos, has released a free e-book accessible through their Vyrso software: What I Wish I’d Known. This book is a collection of contributions from women who attended a summit that the organization hosted last year. The contributions are women’s ministry insights from these women’s ministry leaders years of ministry. You know what they say, “Hindsight is 20/20.” If you’re a woman serving in women’s ministry, you might find these articles to be a welcomed foresight of what might be or what might be averted.

Though I may not share the same theological viewpoints as all of these contributors, I’m sure there is much to glean from this new resource. Some of the contributors that I especially value from this source include: Elyse Fitzpatrick, Jessica Thompson, Darlene Schacht, Amanda Williams, Hilary Tompkins and Courtney Joseph.

Here’s an excerpt from Rebecca Brant’s foreword:

When God calls, we may not feel prepared to answer. We might believe we don’t have enough Bible knowledge, or we’re terrified of public speaking. Maybe we’re weary and broken, and we think we’re not worthy to serve. Maybe all of that’s true—but none of it matters. If God calls us, he sees the faith and maturity required for leadership. And he will equip us for the work he has in mind.

As we seek his guidance and his will, we should remember to seek godly counsel as well. And that’s exactly what you’ll find in this anthology—advice and reflections from 26 Christian women leaders on the theme What I Wish I’d Known in the early years of ministry work.

The writings in this collection vary from checklists to testimonies to mission statements, and more. Some read as if you have been invited for afternoon tea. Others are more like a personal pep rally. Still others are as brief and uplifting as a postcard from a good friend.

We trust each woman’s words will encourage you as you pursue God’s plan. And if you feel encouraged to share what you wish you had known when you heard God’s call, we would love to hear from you. Submit your own story to submit@faithlifewomen.com.

Visit here to learn more and download the book.

Paul Washer on The Believer’s New Relationship with Sin

GospelAssuranceandWarningsI’ve finally had time to sit down with Paul Washer’s third volume on Recovering the Gospel, Gospel Assurance and Warnings from Reformation Heritage Books. I reviewed the first volume here at jtochran.com, and I reviewed the second volume here at The Gospel Coalition. I hope to review this third volume for one of the sites that I like to contribute reviews too.

In Washer’s fourth chapter on confessing sin, he discusses the believers new relationship with sin. If you’re like me and you have an ongoing battle with indwelling sin, you will find this section deeply comforting.

Here’s what he says:

“We know that we have come to know Him not because we are without sin but because our attitude toward sin has been radically altered: we have a growing hatred for it, are broken over it, and confess it” (30).

This is the premise of one sign of assurance — that our relationship with sin is different. What we once loved is now despised.

“The validity of his claim to a new relationship with God can be affirmed only to the degree that his relationship with sin has changed” (30).

“In the titanic work of conversion, God recreates the heart after His likeness in true righteousness and holiness. This radically altered heart has new and radically altered affections. Its love for self has been replaced by a love for God, and its thirsting for iniquity has been replaced by a hungering and thirsting for righteousness. To put it simply, the Christian now loves the God he once hated and hates the self he once loved; he now desires the righteousness he once spurned and despises the unrighteousness of which he once boasted” (31).

Because we are prone to despair over sin, these words are deeply comforting. We become convinced that sin’s presence indicates a lack of God’s presence. In reality, that the presence of sin bothers us at all is an indication of God’s presence. We are no longer blind to sin; we are no longer numb to its piercing pain. The cause of assurance is not that there is no sin but that there is a real struggle with it. A real struggle indicates the real presence of God in us.

“Although we must never diminish the believer’s great and ongoing struggle with sin, we must not explain away or diminish the power of regeneration” (31).

“Even though the believer will battle with sin and at times suffer loss, both his heart and affections have been transformed. His sin is no longer a cause for delight and boasting but of mourning and confession. In fact, this mourning that leads to confession is one of the greatest evidences of his conversion” (31).

If you feel the pain of guilt over sin, you have cause of assurance. If you feel real grief over sin in you and around you, you have cause for assurance. If you see God as just, and you long to see equity in dealing with sin, you have cause for assurance. If sin is ugly and Christ is beautiful, you have cause for assurance.

This is comforting news for all those who struggle with sin. And for those who do not struggle with sin, well, this news should startle them into concern over their soul.

Announcing Gospel-Centered Library and Changes to jtcochran.com

I cherish the gospel and wish to shine forth the light of the gospel in whatever means possible. Likewise, I love good books, especially books that awaken the heart to the gospel. So it is only natural for me to bring those two affections together to produce a resource that is fruitful for the sake of gospel-centeredness — introducing the Gospel-Centered Library. The Gospel-Centered Library will be the new home for my book reviewing. I’ll still contribute reviews to other sites, but my primary locus for reviewing will now be at the Gospel-Centered Library page of jtcochran.com. There you will already find my archive of reviews that I’ve written over the past few years.

While I’m making this change, you’ll also notice some not-so-subtle changes to jtcochran.com. It seems this sites gone green. Over the next few days you’ll see that trend integrate across Twitter and elsewhere.

Thanks so much for reading and be sure to tell your friends about this reliable place to find solidly written and engaging reviews on gospel-centered books.

Look for my next review coming soon on the Supremacy of God in Preaching by John Piper.

014: Cochrans4Chicago Newsletter Update

1 John 2:2 “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”

Dear Friends,

Recently my pastor, Joe Thorn, preached on the above verse. What he said resonated with my soul, encouraging and affirming the direction in which the Lord is directing our steps as we begin the planning stages of a church plant in Libertyville.

Church planting is a demanding task, one that causes men to forsake many of the things of this world: desires, comforts, interests. This is something that the entire Cochran family has slowly learned over the past couple years. For Kendall and I, it was definitive when we looked around in our empty Tulsa home in 2013 and realized that we were letting go of much for the sake of making much of Christ in Chicagoland. For the children, it was smaller things. Chloe saying goodbye to her friend Cammie. Asher feeling the pain of his Black and Decker tool work station not surviving the move, damaged in our POD. For Adalie, it involves nap times cut short from noisy siblings who share one bedroom with her.

Still, we all look at these things as having a specific purpose. They are but trifle sacrifices for what we see the Lord stirring in our own hearts and others. How is the Lord stirring within you to forsake the world and things in the world for his good and glory?

We will be relocating to the Libertyville area in mid-June. This Wednesday we are looking at a rental property that is currently being rented by a PhD graduate who studied under Doug Sweeney, my doctoral advisor, at TEDS. This graduate started working at Crossway as an editor this last fall, and he and his family are relocating to Wheaton in May. The Lord providentially brought the two of us together when I met with Dane Ortlund in Crossway’s offices, who thought it might be opportune for us to connect, since we both love editing and church history, sharing the same doctoral advisor. It’s very exciting to see how God is working!

Relocation is always bittersweet. We’ll miss our friends at Redeemer Fellowship, Starbucks, Chickfila, our apartment complex, and in the community we live. As we’ve shared what the Lord is doing, many have indicated a desire to come up and visit the church plant, which is always encouraging. We’ve had so many gospel conversations as a result of these friendships, and we know that the Lord is planting seeds for his glory in all these conversations.

MINISTRY UPDATE

Pray that the Lord would continue to train and equip our family for gospel ministry as we make the next steps to planting in Libertyville.

Two weeks ago I met with the elders of Embassy Church in Arlington Heights and shared the seedling vision and first draft of a prospectus for the Libertyville church plant. This presentation was met with an encouraging response. Since then, our family has had dinner in the home of one of Embassy Church’s elders and another attended the first information meeting we had for the Libertyville church plant. Even now I am praying for continued favor.

This past Friday evening I held my first information meeting for the Libertyville church plant. There was a handful of men gathered to read Scripture, pray, and listen. During that time I shared our story and calling to Libertyville, a draft of the proposed vision of this church plant, and my timeline. There was hearty discussion as we all enjoyed dessert together. I’m very thankful for the Farish family, who opened their home to our family for dinner and generously hosted the information meeting.

Then on this past Sunday, the Sunday following the information meeting, I had the opportunity to preach for my friend, Steve McCoy, at the church he leads, Doxa Fellowship. I preached about the eternal God from Psalm 90. It was a sweet time of fellowship as it always is with this church family. God has blessed me with the opportunity to preach for them five times now since we moved up here.

On Monday April 20th, I will attend a banquet for NAMB missionaries where there will be a number of churches from outside the Chicago area that are looking to partner with new church plants. I’m looking forward to this time where I will have the opportunity to share with others about what the Lord is stirring in our hearts. Please pray that the Lord will give us favor and we will connect with other churches that wish to partner in this new work.

Hopefully, during the next two months we confirm having a sending church and go through a favorable assessment with the North American Mission Board. Then we can really accelerate the church planting work the Lord is leading us too and put our hand to the plow without looking back.

WORK UPDATE

Praise God for his provision of MORE part-time employment.

Kendall and I have already arranged to transfer our part-time work to the Libertyville area for when we move there in June. I’m also looking for freelance marketing, content strategy, social media, and editorial work to replace my hours at Starbucks. The Lord has already shown his favor here; I’m delighted to share that I am now a freelance proof editor for Crossway. We hope that the Lord will open up a way for more of this kind of work as we continue to have information meetings and prepare for assessment with the North American Mission Board. Once assessment is complete and we have a confirmed sending church, I will be able to focus most of my attention towards the church plant.

We’re really thankful that the Lord has provided these means to provide for our family. Nonetheless, our sincere desire is to focus more towards church planting. We’ve found that this is difficult to do when we are working as much as we are. It leaves little time left for us to focus on people, prayer, and planning for this church plant.

PARTNERING UPDATE

Pray that the Lord will provide partners with both churches and individuals, so we may continue forward with Church Planting. Please share with others about this work too! We’d love to have more people praying for us!

Our ernest desire is to focus on church planting. If the Lord is stirring you to partner with us and unleash us for church planting work, you may do so through the North American Mission Board.

All funding may be securely given through the North American Mission Board. Gifts may be given through Electronic Funds Transfer, or AutoPay with your Debit or Credit Card. To set up automatic giving on-line go to our NAMB Webpage, http://msc.kintera.org/cochranfamily2005.

If you wish to mail in an Electronic Funds Transfer request, you may do so. Fill out the form below and mail it to the address for NAMB below. When you fill out the form indicate my name JOEY COCHRAN and Account 10138 on the form.

EFT Request Form.

Here is a helpful document about giving online with the North American Mission Board.

Q&A Sheet for Partnering with NAMB Missionaries.

If you wish to send a monthly check, you may still do so. Please be sure to memo JOEY COCHRAN ACCT 10138 on your check.

Mail your check to:

NAMB

Attention: Accounting – MSC                       

PO Box 116543

Atlanta, Georgia 30368-6543

Sincerely,

The Cochran Family

cochranfamily2005@gmail.com

Experiencing the Trinity by Joe Thorn

Experiencing the TrinityThis review first appeared at Lifeway’s Pastors Today web blog.

Bibliography

Joe Thorn. Experiencing the Trinity: The Grace of God for the People of God. Wheaton: Crossway, 2015. 144 pp. $10.99.

Category

Spiritual Growth

Summary

“No book written by man has so warmed my heart during the last decade as has this one,” is what I said in reference to the last book I read by Joe Thorn, Note to Self. A few years have passed, and I stand by that word.

You see, Note to Self played a seminal role in me seeking Pastor Joe Thorn as a mentor and coach. I’m proud to call him my pastor and friend, and am thankful for the time he has poured into my life.

When Joe shared with me that he was working on a second book, Experiencing the Trinity, I eagerly prayed for him as he wrote and looked earnestly towards the day that I might read this new work.

Experiencing the Trinity is a devotional and experiential meditation on the many attributes of the triune God. Thorn looks at each person of the Trinity in turn: fifteen devotions on the Father, twenty on the Son, and fifteen on the Spirit. Each of these sermonettes to the self draw out shortcomings — how we forget, are tempted, self-deceived, or misunderstand these attributes of God. Then, with the same gentleness and  conviction, truths are affirmed and reinforced in our lives.

Thorn shares in the introduction how many of Experiencing the Trinity’s devotions were written during and in the aftermath of an extremely anxious time for pastor Joe. It was a time where Joe sought counsel from Pastor and Professor David Murray, who recently wrote The Happy Christian. It was a time where Joe enlisted professional medical help as well — a decision difficult for him because of prior convictions about medication. But ultimately, though many factors played a role in his recovery, this is what Thorn says took preeminent place:

“And central to it all was the Word of God. It was Scripture that drew me back to the hope, peace, and safety I have in Jesus. And this is what this book is really about: how the Word of God draws us to the living God. I knowing him we find peace, joy, strength, and faith.” (17)

So each devotion begins with a Scripture, which is then applied to the heart, moving the reader along in God-exulting worship and praise.

Benefit for Pastoral Ministry

Before readers depart from the introduction, Pastor Joe gives a solemn reminder. He wrote these devotions as a Christian and only a Christian may rightfully appropriate these truths and pray them with confidence. Yet, he couches this qualification with a valuable statement that opens the door to the curious and seeker: “If you have not yet believed in Jesus Christ as the only hope of being reconciled to God, I encourage you to read the following pages as the promises God make to those who believe” (19).

Likewise, if you think that devotionals like this one are only for the truly pious, or books like this sit on a pastors shelf and are not rightly fit for the average person, you would be tragically mistaken. If anything, Thorn communicates the exact opposite. Every person needs the truths from Experiencing the Trinity. We’re all weak, vulnerable to sin, and prone to revert to old ways. Thorn articulates this in various manners throughout Experiencing the Trinity. In his chapter on God the Father’s forgiveness, he gently reminds us:

“It’s good that your sins bother you. They should. They are an offense and affront to God. But your tendency to lose hope in light of them is not of faith, because faith believes and receives the pardon of God. He forgives his people.” (45)

What a comforting reminder to your soul!

Had I mentioned how concise each of these devotions are? Some are two others are three pages in length. Yet, this doesn’t mean that one will spend a mere minute or two on these devotions. I found myself resting in the truths found within and marinading my heart in them for much longer. I recall Thorn’s chapter on the Holy Spirit being grieved. He compares the soul to a garden. He says, “Your soul is designed to be a garden of sorts, one that bears fruit for him who tends it” (136). Thorn exhorts to cultivate godliness, resist the weeds of unrepentant sin, uproot them through confession, and water your soul

I recommend Experiencing the Trinity with the same zeal I once recommended Note to Self. Purchase this book. Read it. Re-read it.

Rating

Essential Recommended Helpful Pass It By

Recommendation

Experiencing the Trinity is a grace infused prayer book that reflects on the beauty and wonder of our Triune God.

Help Your Children Read Good Books — Amy Carmichael: Beauty for Ashes by Iain H. Murray

Amy CarmichaelA few evenings a week, after the younger children go to bed, my eldest, Chloe, and I sit on the couch and we read a good book together. I’m not talking about a Little House on the Prairie book or Anne of Green Gables book, though I’m sure we will do that too, one of these days. I’m talking about a book that I’d like to read, and I think she would enjoy — one that’s a little bit beyond her reading ability but with a storyline or topic that she would really enjoy.

This started after I read Richard Sibbes’s, Josiah’s Reformation, a Banner of Truth Puritan Paperback. After reading this book, I decided that my children would benefit from the first sermon, “A Tender Heart.” I read the sermon to them over the course of two weeks as part of our family worship time. When we finished, Chloe begged me to continue on with her. So I read the book again, with her.

After that we read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer together. Now, we’re reading Iain Murray’s recent biography, Amy Carmichael: Beauty for Ashes. We’ve actually just started this one, but she’s really into it. I’m thrilled because A Chance to Die by Elisabeth Elliot, another Amy Carmichael biography, was the book I was reading when I first met my bride to be in 2003. Now, after nearly 10 years of marriage, I’m reading another Carmichael biography, but this one with my daughter.

Murray has written this one accessibly. My daughter is having no difficulty following along. Only every once in a while has she asked a clarifying question. Usually these have to do with culture and history from a bygone era. If you haven’t read a missionary biography or if your children have not read one, I really recommend this one. The story of Alma, Amy Carmichael, and her mission to rescue  orphans from the temple prostitution in India is a remarkable story of a woman of faith and peerless virtue. Her ministry still carries on today in the small village Dohnavur, and it might have a significant impact in your home. Who knows? You might be reading to a future missionary…or systems analyst for CTU.

9 Marks Chicago Workshop

9Marks9 Marks is holding a two day conference this coming Monday and Tuesday, March 23-24. This workshop will have nine sessions, one on each of the 9 Marks of a healthy church.

Speakers:

Mark Dever, Senior Pastor, Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington, DC
Phil Howell, Pastor for Preaching, Embassy Church, Mt. Prospect, IL
Mike McKinley, Senior Pastor, Sterling Park Baptist Church, Sterling, VA
Zach Schlegel, Assistant Pastor, Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington, DC

Registration Price:

Adult: $45

Student: $25

If you’re available to go to this conference, I encourage you to do so. I’ll be there most of the day on Monday. This will be a time of nourishing food for pastoral reflection. Likewise, this will be great for those not in pastoral ministry. Church members will learn what it means to be a member and what a healthy church should look like. They will be able to better partner with their church in fostering the culture of a healthy church.

President Ryken of Wheaton College shares why you should come to this workshop:

Jonathan Edwards: An Interview with Dane C. Ortlund

the-works-of-jonathan-edwardsTo commemorate Logos’s release of Yale University Press’s 26 Volume definitive set of Jonathan Edwards’ works, I am hosting a series of interviews with pastors and scholars with whom Edwards and his works has had massive influence.

If you’d like to read a summary on the importance of Edwards’ works, along with the significance of the Yale Edition of Edwards’ works, and three ways to access this edition, you may do so here where I introduced this series.

Here are other interviews in this series:

Today we sit and listen to Dane Ortlund as he shares about Jonathan Edwards.

1. What originally drew your interest to study Jonathan Edwards? What about him, his preaching, and his writing caught your attention?

Reading Jonathan Edwards walks me through the wardrobe into Narnia. He pulls the curtain back on my small imagination and shows me the breathtaking beauty of the gentleness and grace of God. He talks as if God actually exists. I feel like I get saved all over again when I read him.

2. What academic work have you done on Jonathan Edwards? Would you summarize it briefly?

I’ve done nothing academic on Edwards except for an article or two. My focus on Edwards, as far as writing, has been aimed at a lay audience. Edwards on the Christian Life (2014) gives a comprehensive but crisply moving summary of his theology of the Christian life, for everyday Christians. A New Inner Relish (2008) is a study in his understanding of what motivates Christians to obey God.

3. Is there a sermon or work of Edwards that many might not know, which has had a significant impact on you? In what way did it affect you?

Preaching was his central labor over the course of his ministry. ‘A Divine and Supernatural Light,’ ‘God Glorified in Man’s Dependence,’ and ‘Heaven Is a World of Love’ are classics, wonderful, and hard to beat, but my favorite Edwards sermon so far is ‘The Spirit of the True Saints Is a Spirit of Divine Love,’ based on 1 John 4:16, a deeply moving sermon, igniting all sorts of longings and joys. The sermon expresses, as well as any, the couple of themes most central to the heart of Edwards’ theology and ministry: love, light, real happiness, communion with God, Christ’s delight in saving sinners, the joy of heaven versus the misery of hell. This sermon has affected me most deeply.

4. What does Edwards’ works offer to today’s pastors? Why should they read widely from his works?

Glimpsing heaven’s reality and our mortality, apprehending God’s loveliness in welcoming us into the communion of the Trinity, and understanding authentic spiritual experience are all offerings of Edwards’ works. And a hundred other things. Just give him a try. Don’t believe what the American history textbooks tell you about him, and don’t be intimidated by his genius. Just read a few sermons. You’ll taste and see why so many go back to him to get saved all over again, time and again.

5. Why would you recommend the Yale edition of Edwards over other editions that are in print?

It’s the critical edition that hasn’t been messed with theologically by the generations immediately following Edwards, so that’s good. But they’re expensive. If money is an issue, get the two-volume Hendrickson or Banner of Truth editions. Unless you’re doing academic work in Edwards, this is all you need, and it’s a lot of Jonathan Edwards in two big fat volumes. And remember, you can always search and read (for free) the full Yale set online at edwards.yale.edu.

 

ortlund-daneDane Ortlund (Ph.D., Wheaton College) is Senior VP for Bible Publishing at Crossway in Wheaton, Illinois, where he lives with his wife, Stacey, and their four kids. He is the author of several books, most recently Edwards on the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God. Dane blogs at Strawberry-Rhubarb Theology. You can follow him on Twitter.

Edwards on the Christian Life by Dane C. Ortlund

edwards-christian-life

This review first appeared at Lifeway’s Pastors Today web blog.

Bibliography

Dane C. Ortlund. Edwards on the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God. Wheaton: Crossway, 2014. 208 pp. $18.99.

Category

Theology

Summary

You cannot complete high school without hearing about Jonathan Edwards in an American History class. Regardless of whether your teacher called him a fire and brimstone Northampton preacher of judgment, a pious and reflective missionary to Native Americans, or a theological giant who led as the first President of Princeton, you’ve heard something about Jonathan Edwards. He is a looming figure over the hallowed history of Colonial America. A great mind, a great shepherd, and a great leader are all apt ascriptions for this man.

Many argue that Edwards is the greatest theologian that America has seen and may ever see. The opening words of Doug Sweeney’s preface to Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word: A Model of Faith and Thought say, “Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) is the most influential thinker in all evangelical history” (17). In Jonathan Edwards: A Life, George Marsden says, “Edwards was extraordinary. By many estimates, he was the most acute early American philosopher and the most brilliant of all American theologians” (1).

There are numerous biographies that portray Edwards the man. There is also a swathe of academic literature on his works. But too few accessible works are available that aim at a popular lay audience while also fulfilling the lofty target of encapsulating the center of Edwards’s vision for the Christian life. Edwards on the Christian Life by Dane C. Ortlund fills this void. Ortlund displays a savvy grasp on Edwards’s 26 Volume corpus of literature best studied from Yale University Press’s set of Jonathan Edwards Works; chapter by chapter of Edwards on the Christ Life models this savviness for readers.

Edwards on the Christian Life’s thirteen chapters survey Edwards’s perspective on a  dozen themes related to the Christian Life. The unifying theme for all of Edwards’s thought, according to Ortlund, is his understanding of beauty; this is the first chapter. “Divine loveliness, enjoyed and reflected in his creatures: this is Edwards’s legacy” (24).

Ultimately, the creatures seeing the beauty of God in turn are beautified:

“A Christian is the one who is being beautified. This is because Christian living is fundamentally participation in the unceasing explosion of delighted intratrinitarian joy and love” (31).

This is just the beginning of what awaits in Edwards on the Christian Life. Among my other favorite chapters include New Birth (chapter two), Gentleness (chapter five), Prayer (chapter seven), and Heaven (chapter twelve). Edwards on the Christian Life concludes with four thoughtful and tactful criticisms on Edwards’s views (chapter thirteen).

Benefit for Pastoral Ministry

Edwards on the Christian Life is a delightful primer that introduces readers to Jonathan Edwards and most noticeably his thought. Ortlund’s careful research unearths treasures from the primary works of Edwards. Meanwhile, Ortlund also benefits from the companion secondary literature from the likes of Doug Sweeney, George Marsden, Gerald McDermott, and Stephen Nichols. Yet, curation of primary and secondary sources to dialogue together on a person and his thought is not enough. It’s the personal engagement and furthering of the conversation that makes any work a fine addition for study and re-study. Ortlund’s thoughtful interaction at this level is what sets Edwards on the Christian Life apart. We find this to be the case throughout this book.

A simple example from Ortlund’s chapter on joy may suffice to demonstrate this (chapter four). After seriously engaging and illuminating Edwards’s thought on joy, while also pointing the reader to another great mind, Cornelius Plantinga. Ortlund reminds us: “If a Christian leader wants believers to feel joy in Christ, he doesn’t mainly tell them about joy. He shows them Christ. Joy sneaks unbidden in the back door” (77). What a profound and devotional thought for any reader!

If you’re not aware, Edwards on the Christian Life is part of a series from Crossway. This series includes books on Francis Schaeffer, Martin Luther, John Wesley, and others. One thing that Ortlund intentionally does is he interacts with some of these other great figures in Christianity — and still others not part of the series. He compares and contrasts these people to Edwards.

For instance, in the final chapter on four criticisms, Ortlund compares Edwards preoccupation with introspection to both Martin Luther’s and C. S. Lewis’s intentional move away from introspection. Ortlund maintains: “Each coaches us away from unhealthy Edwardsian introspection” (183). This exercise not just allows us to have a more round understanding of Edwards, but it also helps us to discover and process the fruit of looking at a collection of Christian exemplars — though truly only Christ may be found to fulfill the role of exemplar par excellence.

Rating

Essential    Recommended    Helpful    Pass It By

Recommendation

Edwards on the Christian Life doesn’t just help us understand beauty; it helps us view Christ as beautiful, the one who beautifies his bride.

Faith Speaking Understanding by Kevin J. Vanhoozer

vanhoozerThis review first appeared at Lifeway’s Pastors Today web blog.

Bibliography

Kevin J. Vanhoozer. Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing the Drama of Doctrine. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014. 280 pp. $30.00.

Category

Theology

Summary

The extended metaphor: sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t; eventually it breaks down. Yet, when rightly applied, the extended metaphor is an effective tool to refresh stale concepts with an effervescent surge of life.

Kevin Vanhoozer’s recent release, Faith Speaking Understanding, is one such exceedingly successful attempt. This work is designed to stimulate a fresh take on “living to God” as the Puritan, William Ames, one of Vanhoozer’s many dialogue partners, so aptly called the study/practice of theology (Ames, 77-78). In Faith Speaking Understanding, Vanhoozer — research professor of Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School — builds on his previous work, the 2006 Best Theology Book of the year by Christianity Today, The Drama of Doctrine.

Vanhoozer, gears this one, Faith Speaking Understanding, to be more reader friendly from his previous work, The Drama of Doctrine. He says, “Faith Speaking Understanding is, by contrast, written for everyday Christians, serious students of theology, and pastors. It is a root vegetable for the salt of the earth; not a Great Pumpkin but a Lesser Parsnip” (xv).

Faith Speaking Understanding introduces readers to the Theodrama (25), as Vanhoozer calls it. Taking cues from Hans Urs von Balthasar, and others enamored by the theatrical depiction of doctrine — both systematically and canonically studied — the author presents his own construct of a five act drama: creation, election, sending of the Son Jesus, sending of the Spirit and Church, and return of the King (98). This construct is presented in a theatre, on a stage, with lighting, by a company of actors who wish to honor the cosmic playwright. Why does Vanhoozer painstakingly go to such extremes to foster a theatrical model for theology? From Vanhoozer’s perspective: “Theatrical theology serves the project of gospel exhibition” (25).

Each chapter of Faith Speaking Understanding encapsulates a distinct element of this drama and how it is presented. Part one sets the stage by providing overview of the theater of the gospel, explaining the already and not yet element of a kingdom on earth as in heaven, and an interactive apology between stage performers and audience, because ever church member is a performer enacting the role as “little Christs” who are in Christ. Part two furthers the argument by developing the setting, 21st century worldview (chapter 3); the gospel theatre, a triune drama (chapter 4); our parts, “little Christs” (chapter 5); the company, the church (chapter six); the tour, mission (chapter seven); the curtain, future and present suffering (chapter eight).

Benefit for Pastoral Ministry

Like I said above, extended metaphors are risky business. There is a gamble with them. One is that critique or further exploration causes the rhetorical messenger to adapt his metaphor. For instance, Vanhoozer, in The Drama of Doctrine, calls the Scripture the script (Drama, 114), but in Faith Speaking Understanding he opts to refer to it as the lighting (63). For this reader, it’s difficult to disagree with either: the Scripture seems to both be a script, or at minimum, a stage performers manual, and lighting that illuminates the performance. Having an intellectually honest rhetorical messenger is essential. Like Jesus, one to one correspondence to the parables was never guaranteed or employed and the correspondence often changed from parable to parable and from setting to setting (c.f. Craig Blomberg, The Parables of Jesus, 1.1) . I offer Vanhoozer the same latitude.

Overall, I found Vanhoozer’s discussion to be thoroughly scintillating and satisfying. As a skilled systematician, he demonstrates prowess with both primary and secondary sources. His concise summaries of other 21st century stage setting readers (Alan Wolfe, Christian Smith, David Wells, and Harvey Cox) are informative and engaging (53-56). His interaction with others: Wright, Wells, Bartholomew and Goheen, who attempt to break the biblical narrative into acts of theatrical drama, assist readers to differentiate and extrapolate what exactly Vanhoozer illuminates in his portrayal of a five-act drama (96-98).

When it comes to pastoral leadership, pastors profit much from the whole work, especially chapters 5-7, where Vanhoozer’s doctrine of discipleship conveys that each Christ follower demonstrates in living to God his union with God through Christ. Borrowing from C. S. Lewis’s excellent quote in Mere Christianity, we’re “little Christs” imaging and enacting to a watching world God’s unfolding drama of redemption. This means that when we come together to celebrate catechesis through baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the preaching of the Word from the pastor theologian — the dramaturge, the worker of drama — we become a company of performers, recapitulating the drama of the kingdom of heaven breaking into earth.

As Vanhoozer presents:

“We now see that the company of the baptized gathers not only to do God’s will together but also, precisely in and through its life together, to witness to God’s kingdom come. Stated differently: the church is not simply to do God’s will on earth as it is in heaven but also to exist as God’s will, as the embodiment of God’s will-to-communion” (151-152).

Pastor, simply put, Faith Speaking Understanding is a work that needs to be on your shelf, and, more importantly, worked slowly into the way you read God’s drama of creation to restoration and visibly lead others to enact the theodrama.

Rating

Essential    Recommended    Helpful    Pass It By

Recommendation

Faith Speaking Understanding is a superb stage performers manual for every pastor to consult.